I arrived home at ten o'clock last night after five days away in San Diego. I was on a work related trip (not a vacation, although it was quite enjoyable) as part of a delegation from our local school district. We were there to investigate an alternative school called 'High Tech High' with the intent of bringing back ways of implementing their successes into our own schools here. It was impressive, let me tell you, and radically different from any other model I have ever seen. I'm not going to go into the details of how the school was run but I would like to make some comparisons that apply quite nicely to life as a Christian.
The thing that impressed me the most was the outward behavior of the kids themselves. They were polite, respectful, engaged, well spoken, good listeners, articulate, confident ... the list of descriptive words could go on and on. These are teenagers we're talking about here! What a change from the sometimes surly and disengaged youth I am accustomed to. There was no 'us and them' mentality (youth vs. adults) but instead a real environment of community among all. Of course, this has been achieved through years of fine tuning their methods of teaching and is inherent in their model. Simply put, however, these are some of the keys that I think apply to us as Christians.
1. Focus on communication skills. This is HUGE and is built into every aspect of what they do at HTH. Students and teachers are constantly carrying on a give and take dialogue. Asking questions, giving feedback, focusing atention on the conversation at hand, listening to what the other person has to say ... Sadly, many of us tend to dominate conversations, trying to push our own ideas onto others without taking the time to really hear and understand what the OTHER person is saying. Wandering eyes and listening with 'one ear' tell the other person that you really don't care about their opinions or, in short, in them as a person. Every student at HTH stopped when spoken to, turned their attention (and their eyes) on whomever was speaking, and engaged in conversation. They are practicing what most adults have a time hard with. How much more as Christians should we be this type of communicator?
2.Treat everyone as an equal. Everyone on campus from staff to students to visitors is treated as a valuable member of the community while on site. Students even take part in the hiring process! When people feel valued they are more apt to buy into the 'program'. I've met too many Christians whose air of superiority comes across loud and clear to non-believers. This is no way to win people for Christ. We need to remember we aren't BETTER than them, just saved by grace. Allowing people to be themselves and treating everyone with respect, no matter their religious or other ideological beliefs, will win far more people to Christ in the end.
3. Question and self discovery. HTH is a 'project based school'. Part of this process is asking a lot of questions and then going on to find the answers yourself. Of course, there is guidance, but teachers are no longer the 'imparters of knowledge'; rather they are facilitators for self discovery. This kind of learning sticks. (Think about your own school experiences and what you remember most.) I think we can apply this to our lives as Christians. Of course, we believe the Bible to be the inerrant truth of God and thus the final authority on all matters. But digging into that truth must be a matter of personal discovery. Just believing something because the pastor or another person says so is not sufficient. Asking questions - even the tough ones that don't make sense, is okay. When we delve into this kind of quest, the truth and beauty of God's word becomes forever part of our being - so much more than a mere reading from a devotional book with a few verses sprinkled in. This is the kind of deep seated knowledge that makes us passionate - makes us want to share with the world.
I learned much more during my stay, the most obvious being the things I plan to implement in my classroom, but also ideas that I can transfer to my writing. Perhaps I'll save those for another day. Suffice to say, I came away impressed with how a group of secular teens could teach me how to be a better Christian. These kids have really stepped up in terms of their attitudes and outward behavior. How much more should we, as representatives of the Almighty, do the same?